Over the last two weeks I’ve decided to group the remaining pile of various DVDs and Blu-rays that I’ve neglected for too long into two major groupings. This post will cover nine films within the category of “Organized Crime”. These are stories that deal with criminal activity that usually include groups like; The Mob, The Mafia, Neo-Nazis, Giant Corporations, and gangs in general. Though there is one film that deals in criminal activity without the aid of an organized group of criminals, so with the last entry, simply flip the terminology to “Crime, Organized”. Trust me, you’ll understand when you get there.
Written by Stuart Beattie and directed by Michael Mann, “Collateral” is a night in the life of Max (Jamie Foxx) a small time cab driver in Los Angeles. Max is a simple guy, a working man who dreams of being an entrepreneur in the, carefully curated, limo business. His first fare of the night is Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), a lawyer that he shares some charming banter with before dropping off. His next fare, while also charming in his own way, happens to be Vincent (Tom Cruise) an older business type who gets Max to agree to take him around L.A. throughout the night for some extra cash. Though the money would be welcome, Max is uneasy about the agreement and ponders the consequences- just as a dead body crashes onto his cab. This kick-starts the rest of the movie as Max is forced to drive Vincent around until he completes his hit-list for the night. Shortly after the first couple of bodies are discovered, Detective Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) who knows details of a similar string of murders, closes in and follows the clues left in Vincent’s wake. This was my first Michael Mann movie, and I really enjoyed the pairing of Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise with Mann behind the director’s chair. You can tell that Mann’s got a deft hand for blocking action and keeping the tension between Max and Vincent tight and evolving throughout the story. Vincent influences Max, and Max equally surprises not only Vincent, but himself as well.
Recommendation: This was a well-executed thriller between a hit-man and an everyman. If you enjoy cat-and-mouse capers that strike the balance between intelligent characterization and engaging escalation, then I highly recommend this movie!
Written by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie and directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, “Good Time” is an intense ride that begins with two brothers robbing a bank. Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie) hit the ground running with a lean, bare-knuckle, bank robbery. They almost get away with it too! To be fair, the opening scene firmly establishes the fact that Nick is somewhat mentally handicapped, or socially behind in how he understands and interacts with others. This adds a significant layer of tension to the bank robbery scene, and is ultimately the reason things go awry. After effectively escaping the crime scene, the two get a cab and accidentally set off the dye pack. This causes the cabbie to crash and covers them in bright neon pink. The two run into a Pizza shop and barricade themselves in while washing off the pink dye. Afterwards on the street a passing cop car stops them. Unfortunately this spikes Nick’s fight or flight response and turns the scene into a chase in which the brothers lose each other in the confusion, Nick is caught by the police, but Connie escapes. From there Connie schemes, steals, and utilizes every resource he has to get his brother out of prison. He discovers that Nick’s gotten hurt in prison and is in intensive care, which propels Connie to break his brother out of the hospital- despite it being heavily guarded. After an especially difficult time avoiding security and dragging his unconscious brother out of the hospital, Connie discovers (far too late) that he got the wrong guy. I won’t give away the ending, but trust me, it’s pretty good. I wanted to take a moment to focus on the sound mixing and score. With both this film and “Uncut Gems”, the Safdie brothers have shown that they’re unusually invested in audio mixing that implies an almost cosmic framing for their films (The cinematography also imbues the film with this stellar underpinning throughout). With surreal synths and a crispness that whispers of an analog love, the sound design in the two Safdie brothers movies that I have seen are unpredictable and otherworldly.
Recommendation: After seeing “Uncut Gems” in theaters earlier this year (in another time, another world…) I was eager to see what the Safdie Brothers had done prior to their excellent work with Adam Sandler. I was also intrigued to see another recent performance from Robert Pattinson after his impressive work in “The Lighthouse”, and I wasn’t let down by my expectations in the least! This grungy crime flick is a unique look into the Safdie Brothers talent in crafting anxiety-riddled tales from the seedy and greedy underworld of crime. If you saw and enjoyed “Uncut Gems” this is another knockout from Josh and Benny Safdie. Check out the link below to read an interview the Safdie Brothers did with nofilmschool.com :
Sorry to Bother You
Written and directed by Boots Riley, “Sorry to bother you” is undoubtedly the film I was surprised most by in this bunch. This film is easily the most interesting first feature from a new filmmaker that I’ve seen in years. The film seems almost un-categorical at times, it’s a black comedy that satirizes the race relations of America through this parallel universe. It also skewers the unwieldy and unregulated power of large corporations. However, it also puts a spotlight on how a “for profit” society encourages prioritization of one’s own career advancement over the health and well-being of the majority of people. It’s also crazily inventive and uses abstract techniques in filmmaking to express the disparity between white and black peoples and the financial schemes separating them. Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) is a young man living in Oakland CA in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Early on he lands a job as a telemarketer where he gets some sage advice from another coworker (Danny Glover) who explains his technique; “use your white voice”. Cassius is told that his “white voice” isn’t what he thinks white people sound like, but rather, a voice that sounds at ease- someone that has no financial woes, no real worries, to be someone that’s friendly and confident about their future. Put simply, be the voice that white people think they’re supposed to sound like. With that wisdom, Cassius puts on his “white voice” (a dub by comedian David Cross) and is immediately successful. Cassius quickly becomes so good at selling over the phone that he’s promoted to the status of “Power Caller”, a highly coveted position and rank within the company. There’s a lot of financial success that comes with his promotion, but it also comes with drama as his girlfriend Detroit is more of the socially cognizant, protester type. So, does Cassius continue his selling out for more power and money? Or does he quit the high paying job and all the benefits that come with it for the love of his life? It’s quite the dilemma. Just know that once high profile playboy and CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) shows up, the film gets… well it gets real damn weird- but I loved it.
Recommendation: There’s a lot to love with this one. The reality altering filmmaking choices used to explore the ideas presented in the film are creative and fresh! The actors all turn in potent performances, and the direction from Riley promises an exciting new filmmaker’s arrival on the scene. Personally, I can’t wait to see what Boots Riley does next! I highly recommended it!
Live by Night
Written and directed by Ben Affleck, “Live by Night” is an adaption of the novel by the same title. The film follows Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) a World War One veteran turned Boston gangster in the mid 1920s. He’s got a mantra, or creed, that after witnessing the horrors of the war, he would never take orders from anyone again. Joe’s fallen in love with the daughter of Albert White (Robert Glenister), the boss of the major Irish gang in town, and he’s been bombing Mr. White’s coffers all over town. Eventually his girl is forced to sell him out and Joe’s badly beaten by Mr. White’s associates until his father, the Police Captain (Brendan Gleeson), turns up with a slew of officers to save him. Joe’s sent to prison for a few murders that took place in the scuffle, but misses his father’s death and funeral two weeks before his release. With revenge on his mind, Joe goes back to Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone), the head of the Mafia in Boston, who had previously tried to blackmail him earlier as Albert White was Pescatore’s main rival. Pescatore accepts Joe’s offer and sends him to Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, to run his Rum Empire that’s been under attack by White. At this point, the film looses all of its pacing and focus. Things and events happen, but Ben Affleck’s Joe Coughlin ends up falling in love with Graciela (Zoe Saldana) and the film slows to a crawl. Instead of focusing on his efforts to fight off the Klu Klux Klan, whose loyalists have been bombing Joe’s clubs and dance halls, the film montages past these events to instead wade further into the aimless molasses of river boat rides and sun drenched slow dancing. In the end there’s a final shootout sequence in which Joe discovers that Pescatore found Mr. White and instead chose to work with him in order to cut Joe out of the picture. It’s a well executed sequence, and fairly engaging, it’s just a shame the prior forty-five minutes weren’t as tight.
Recommendation: This one was puzzling. Affleck is a good actor and certainly a capable director, “The Town” alone proves this, but something went wrong with this one. The first half of the film is fairly engaging, and the whole thing is certainly crafted well- but the moment Ben Affleck gets to Florida all of the intensity and momentum is sucked right out of the production. There’s some good stuff in the film, but your decision to give this one a watch will probably depend on your general approval (or personal entertainment value) of Ben Affleck.
Road to Perdition
Written by David Self and directed by Sam Mendes, “Road to Perdition” is an adaption of the graphic novel of the same title. Set in the mid-west in early 1930s the film follows Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) a hired gun for the well known and powerful Irish mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney had found and raised an orphaned Sullivan years prior and the two formed a familial relationship that Rooney’s own son Connor (Daniel Craig) never had, and always sought. One evening Sullivan’s eldest son sneaks into the car and tags along with Michael and Connor as they head off to do the bidding of Mr. Rooney. Of course, Sullivan’s boy peers through a hole in the barn that his father and Connor are interrogating a local businessman in, and he watches Connor lash out and kill their man. Once the adults catch up with Junior, Sullivan and Connor go see Rooney to discuss the situation. This is the main crux of the film’s dramatic tension, the consequences of which propel the rest of the story. Junior lashes out at school as he must keep his father’s secret from his brother and mother and just when you’ve forgotten about Connor’s dangerous unpredictability, he re-emerges in the night to kill Sullivan’s wife and younger son by mistake. From here Sullivan and his eldest son head to Chicago to seek the endorsement of Al Capone through one of his most prestigious henchmen, Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci). Sullivan seeks revenge against the Rooney family for killing his wife and son, but Nitti rejects Sullivan’s offer. Both father and son then decide to rob all of the banks holding Capone’s money until they get noticed. It provides some of the best scenes of the film, but also the most interesting interplay between Sullivan and son. The rest of the film follows the Sullivans’ two man war against Rooney and Capone’s interests. Eventually, things come to a head in one scene of pure cinematic glory set at night in the pouring rain as Sullivan confronts Rooney in the street, who acknowledges his fate and simply says “I’m glad it’s you…”.
Recommendation: This one was a nice surprise! I had heard of it before, but had never sat down and given it a watch until now. The film has a stellar cast, excellent writing, great pacing, and it felt more akin to a classically staged film than the majority of films released in 2002. Want a gangster film that cleverly avoids the trappings of the genre while also delivering a memorable and unique film experience? Then give this one a shot, it’s well worth your time.
Written and directed by Michael Mann, “Heat” is a scintillating tale about bank robbers and the men in blue chasing them down. Robert DeNiro stars as Neil McCauley, the seasoned criminal veteran known for his precision and distaste for failure. He assembles a team for a robbery, notably involving Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) who plays the risk-taking, young, hot-shot of the crew. Al Pacino stars as LAPD Major Crimes Unit Lieutenant Vincent Hanna who follows the trail of destruction left in the wake of McCauley’s team. Since this is a very popular movie that many have already seen I’ll skip the beat-by-beat plot synopsis and instead take note on everything about the film that I loved. Besides the excellent cast, solid pacing, and truly unforgettable robbery sequences- the thing that stood out to me more than anything else was the blend of influences. It felt like Mann took “Serpico” and “Goodfellas” and blended them together, updated them for the modern era (This film is excessively ‘Nineties’), and turned the intensity up to ten. The coffee scene where DeNiro and Pacino calmly acknowledge each other as rivals, maybe even equals, is worth the price of admission alone in my opinion. Honestly, if you like a good old fashioned bank robbery with some class A actors- this is it. Watch it. Trust me.
Recommendation: This is probably the most well known film on this list, and by now you probably know whether or not this film is for you- but I still heartily recommend it anyways!
Written and directed by Jon Favreau (his directorial debut), “Made” is a comedy about two young men Bobby (Jon Favreau) and Ricky (Vince Vaughn) who have dreams of getting paid and getting Made (or accepted into the criminal community). Bobby is the calmer, more level-headed of the two, while Ricky is the motor-mouthed, irresponsible, yet incredibly loyal one. Bobby boxes in the amateur leagues and does construction work on the side with Ricky to support his stripper girlfriend (Famke Janssen) and her daughter. In order to make mends meet Bobby reluctantly takes up an offer from Max (Peter Falk), a Mafia boss. Max needs a couple of guys to represent his interests in a money laundering deal on the east coast. So, he gives them instructions, some cash, and sends them across the country. Ricky, amazed by the amount of money they’re given to survive on until they’re called for, tries to convince Bobby to live the high life for once- but Bobby decides to adhere to the rules instead. They eventually meet up with Ruiz (Sean Combs), who is sorely unimpressed with their ability to not fuck this up- which makes Ricky suspicious of the whole deal. Ricky gets so paranoid that he tries to convince Bobby that they need a gun, Bobby refuses, and the day of the meetup, Ricky disappears. Ruiz is confidant they can make the meetup anyways, but as it so happens, Ricky was right in his suspicions and the Westies (Italian-American Mafia representatives) double-crossed them. Luckily, Ricky shows up with a gun at the last second. A shootout/fight erupts and the two friends make it out alive and back to Los Angeles. In the end, they decide not to become henchmen for the Mafia and cut all their ties with them.
Recommendation: This one was “alright”. There’s bits and pieces of the future that Jon Favreau will be a part of if you’re looking for them. Vince Vaughn’s character feels a lot like Robert Downey Jr’s early Tony Stark, especially for the first two “Iron Man” movies. There’s a LOT of proto-Marvel snark to fill out the dialogue, in fact, if you don’t find the ever-constant banter charming or entertaining, then I wouldn’t recommend this one for you. This one wasn’t necessarily bad, it just wasn’t all that interesting.
Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, “Green Room” is a horror/thriller that follows a heavy metal punk band as they tour the Pacific Northwest. After their tour has dwindled into mostly empty bars and cafes, the band “The Ain’t Rights”, decide to cut their losses and do another show to get enough money to get home. They decide to meet up for a radio show recording with a friend who sets them up with a small gig at the place his cousin works at just outside Portland in the woods. Once the band treks out to the remote spot and get unpacked in the green room, they begin to understand the type of audience that awaits them. With SS stickers, confederate flags, and Swastikas adorning the walls- the bandmates quickly decide to be raucous and rebellious. When they get on stage they play hardcore metal with lyrics like “Nazi Punks, Nazi Punks, FUCK YOU!”. So, before things get actually dangerous, the band has already agitated the crowd. After the show the band accidentally witness a murder in the green room, and are immediately trapped with a couple henchmen. Things escalate- quickly. The rest of the film alternates between a standoff with the Neo-Nazis and the punk rockers and a series of daring maneuvers with varying levels of success. This movie is capital B – Brutal. Once the bandmates finish their show it’s an almost nonstop assault of grindhouse gore and vomit-inducing violence inspired by realism. This is a lean and mean horror flick that embraces its genre tendencies. For some, this may be a cinematic boon, but I wasn’t 100% on board with this one. There are competent performances, especially from Anton Yelchin (R.I.P.), Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart- these were the highlights of the film for me, maybe you’ll find more to enjoy than I did?
Recommendation: This one wasn’t for me. I think there were some interesting choices made, good acting, solid use of a single location movie (for the most part) etc. If I’m being honest though, the brutally realistic gore inflicted on both the good and bad guys, was stomach turning for me personally. I don’t mind some good gore done with prosthetic effects, but I tend to prefer silly, over-the-top, and outlandish gore to grisly realism. Patrick Stewart as the villain might make it worth your time though?
Written by Gillian Flynn and directed by David Fincher, “Gone Girl” is an adaption of the book by the same name, also written by Gillian Flynn. The story follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliott Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a married couple whose fifth anniversary catches headlines across the nation’s news media outlets. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy goes missing, and Nick Dunne is left to pick up the pieces. The story is picked up quickly as Amy’s parents are the authors of a popular children’s book series titled “Amazing Amy”- which Amy hated, the fictional version of Amy succeeded at everything the real Amy had failed at. So Nick talks to the cops, awkwardly poses at press conferences, and is generally perceived as apathetic and douchey by the news media pundits. So, I don’t want to reveal a lot of specifics about the plot as it’s best discovered on a first watch, or read through. In fact, I highly encourage a read of the book first, it’s very engaging and Gillian Flynn adapted her own work to the film medium with elegant poise and a deft hand. This is, in my opinion, Ben Affleck’s best performance of the 2010’s and Rosamund Pike is unforgettable as Amy. David Fincher is also worth mentioning here as it’s his best work since the episodes of Mindhunter that he recently directed, and I would say there’s a great argument that it’s his best work in film since “Zodiac” (I didn’t particularly enjoy “The Social Network”). Fincher wasn’t just the obvious choice for a film like this- he was the dream pick, his artistic tendencies practically scream for projects like this. Normally I don’t lean towards films of this subject matter, but it was truly memorable (and unsettling).
Recommendation: I definitely recommend this one. I have to say this may be the best casting in a movie I have seen in years. Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck were the PERFECT choices for these characters. Honestly, this film is firing on all cylinders, everyone involved helped craft a seriously well made thriller. Every chapter ending cliffhanger that was insanely memorable on the pages of Flynn’s book were transferred to the screen with excruciating clarity. If you like a great thriller with a fantastic atmosphere of mystery, look no further!
Those are the films I’ve spent time with most recently. Hopefully you’re all handling these strange times well, and maybe you’ve found a film or two to check out in this article (or in the first “Rapid Fire Reviews” found here: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/spacecortezwrites.com/13681 ). My next article will include ten films and will fall under a new categorization; “Politics and/or Absurdism” Not all ten films fell into one category, but hey, whatever side of the political fence you fall on, I bet you think Politics in general has gotten completely absurd. Good luck out there!